TAKING THE KNEE & THE LEADERSHIP PROBLEM
Back in 2016, Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the US national anthem ahead of an NFL game, stating that he wouldn’t show pride for his country as it oppressed Black people. This powerful gesture quickly became a significant symbol for anti-racism in sport, and players in the Premier League have been doing the same (despite adverse responses).
The act became a hot topic of conversation at Euro 2020 when players continued to take the knee (and receive backlash). The response from UK (political) leadership has been a focus of blame for the hate speech that continues to emerge. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was harshly criticised for labelling the anti-racist message as ‘gesture politics’. Gary Nevill also called out the UK PM:
“...they were taking the knee to promote equality, and it was against racism. The Prime Minister said that it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players who were trying to promote equality and defend against racism….It starts at the very top.”
It’s not just hindsight that’s shone a light on the significance of the leadership problem here - the events that unfolded have revealed how significant individual public responses can be for fans.
For international football followers, the events have shone badly on English fans in general, taking away from the joy the sport brings:
“The English team is a bunch of really nice guys and a lovely manager, but the English fans just make them so hateworthy. You could predict the racist comments online before it began. It makes no sense as these fans are die-hard supporters of clubs too where these black players are winning trophies for them and bringing them joy…” Mark, 26
HATE SPEECH REGULATION & CONSEQUENCES
Fans and anti-racism advocates and activists have not lain idle. Communities came together to respond with empathy and serious action. In Rashford’s hometown, a defaced mural of the athlete became a symbol of solidarity. An online petition to ban racists from football matches forever has also passed 1 million signatures.
“The squad has shown us something else…a completely inspiring vision of what young people can achieve, what a diverse group of people can achieve and what young men can be...They don’t have to be misogynistic, they don’t have to be racist.” Amna Abdullatif, co-founder of the petition
Elsewhere on social media we saw people sharing posts asking platforms if they can flag Covid-19 related-posts, why can’t they flag racist posts? Shockingly, Instagram recently tried to explain why sending monkey emojis to players did not count as racist abuse. A ‘sad reality’ as Saka puts it is that ‘powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these [hate] messages.’ Social media platforms have been a huge focus of the response here - with people looking for action.
“In 2018, Twitter said it had 15 million football fans in the UK on the service. Since the current season started in September, it says there have been 11m tweets about football from the UK. It says it removed more than 5,000 of them... Meanwhile, Facebook in 2018 says it had 400 million global football fans, and 140 million football fans on Instagram. Facebook said: “On Facebook and Instagram, football has three times more followers than any other sport.” The Drum, on the significance of football on social
From a brand perspective, all the players’ clubs came out with overwhelming messages of support on social media for anti-racism. A number of other brands including ITV and BT have also spoken out with creative responses to show solidarity with the players.
The advertising industry is using its power to spearhead the efforts for action against racism, demanding that social networks take action ahead of the new football season. An open letter penned by a coalition of top advertisers is demanding improved policing of platforms, calling out a lack of adequate action. Led by the Conscious Advertising Network, it condemns how the racist abuse has been enabled and lays out a series of demands to the leaders of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Elsewhere, the conversation about brands considering boycotts continues.
SUPER SPORTING HUMANS
Let’s embrace the love. Before we close this one out, let’s remember why we LOVE sport... The Olympics are now just around the corner and there's plenty to get excited about. If you’re looking for some warm-up content, we liked this piece by Channel 4 for the Paralympics, and are absolutely glued to G.O.A.T. gymnast Simone Biles’ docuseries on Facebook - SIMONE Vs HERSELF.
It’s clear that when it comes to hate speech on social media, change needs to happen now. How could you support this or show solidarity with those pushing for action?
How leadership responds to statements like taking the knee is really important. Don’t underestimate the power of the tone that is set around certain issues (even with Covid-19 now as the Delta variant puts the unvaccinated at high-risk).
Also, a reminder of Love Network member Pierre’s thoughts on brands working with athletes: “Brands are realising their athletes are activists in certain areas now...They need to come on board and not make excuses about not being involved, because what happens outside in society affects you as a company. It’s good to see brands who work with athletes who are willing to support them [like Colin Kaepernick and Nike] endorse athletes who are outspoken because they align to their values, not just ones that are good looking or scoring goals.” Pierre, 25